Past Tense Future Dystopia

Accompanying blog post to the podcast episode titled Past Tense Future Dystopia of the Dark World Conversations with RJ Kelsay podcast. Features discussion of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode "Past Tense" and how current events taking place now could lead to such a dark future.


RJ Kelsay and Angie Kelsay

6/28/20234 min read

Sanctuary District

As always – spoilers a head! One of our favorite shows is Star Trek in it’s many incarnations. RJ’s particular favorite of the spin offs is Deep Space Nine. This week in our podcast we discussed the Sanctuary Districts from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode titled, “Past Tense”, season 3 episodes 11 and 12. We drive into this amazing and thought-provoking episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and explore this gripping story of a dystopian past in Star Trek and how parallels things that could potentially come to be in our world today. This episode masterfully portrays a chilling future that should serve as a wake-up call for society.

This third spin-off of the iconic Star Trek series, normally takes place on a space station rather than a spaceship. In the episode "Past Tense," Commander Sisko (played by Avery Brooks), Dax (played by Terry Farrell), and Bashir (played by Alexander Siddig) find themselves transported to San Francisco in the year 2024 via a transporter malfunction, just before a series of riots erupt in the infamous Sanctuary Districts. Sisko turns out to know a lot about these as one of his hobbies is studying this particular period in history. These districts were established to contain the swelling unemployed and homeless population that overwhelmed the United States government in this era of Star Trek history. Walls were erected around sequestered sections of major cities, and the marginalized citizens were left to languish, forgotten, as these sections turned into slums. This riveting episode allows us to witness the events leading up to an uprising that paved the way for reform that eventually led to the utopian society we see in Star Trek; and it also provides a harrowing glimpse into a possible future here in our own backyard.

The Harsh Reality of Sanctuary Districts

While Deep Space Nine may be a fictional series, the portrayal of Sanctuary Districts in this episode hits disturbingly close to home. In the 1990s, when this episode aired, it was hard to imagine such a dire scenario occurring. However, in today's world, we witness homeless encampments and poverty-stricken areas where individuals are left to fend for themselves. The depiction of Sanctuary Districts in "Past Tense" offer a chilling vision of what can potentially happen when society turns a blind eye to its most vulnerable members.

As you watch the episode, you can see how initially the idea of Sanctuary Districts could be conceived as a good thing for those struggling with unemployment and homelessness; however, in this episode these districts eventually devolved into oppressive enclaves, where people were effectively trapped and forgotten. Citizens, irrespective of gender, race, or background, were herded into these walled-off sections of cities, almost completely devoid of any opportunity to rise up again. These districts became overcrowded, dilapidated, and devoid of hope. The guards and social workers assigned to help eventually became so desensitized to the plight of those trapped within, further reinforcing their status as second-class citizens.

Understanding the Descent into Dystopia

In one poignant scene, Commander Sisko explains to Dr. Bashir the reason behind the existence of Sanctuary Districts. He reveals that the individuals confined within did nothing to deserve their fate. They were ordinary people who fell on hard times, unable to find employment or secure housing. Sisko's statement, "Welcome to the twenty-first century," encapsulates the profound failure of society to address the needs of its citizens.

Though not outright said in the episode, we speculate the idea that Sanctuary Districts might have started with good intentions, as safe havens offering support and assistance to those in need. This notion draws a parallel to real-life situations, such as the establishment of tent cities and makeshift shelters to aid the homeless. However, over time, these well meaning initiatives can deteriorate into oppressive systems that perpetuate suffering rather than alleviate it.

Lessons for Today's Society

"Past Tense" delivers a powerful message about the dangers of societal apathy and the consequences of neglecting those in need. The episode serves as a stark reminder that when we turn a blind eye to the struggles of our fellow human beings, we risk descending into a dystopian world for real. The portrayal of ordinary individuals succumbing to desensitization is a haunting and cautionary tale. It warns us of the dangers of allowing ourselves to become indifferent to the suffering of others.

This gripping Star Trek episode compels us to reevaluate our social systems and how we treat marginalized communities as we witness those who would take what little help they do currently receive and toss it to the winds. It prompts us to ask ourselves: Are we doing enough to address poverty, homelessness, and unemployment? Do we see the faces behind the statistics? Are we actively working to ensure that everyone has access to the basic necessities of life?

To us, "Past Tense" is an episode that transcends the boundaries of science fiction. It vividly paints a dark future and serves as a stark warning of the dangers of societal indifference and the consequences of neglecting our most vulnerable populations. The depiction of Sanctuary Districts in this Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode presents a harrowing vision of what could happen if we fail to address the pressing issues of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment.

Let this episode be a catalyst for change—a reminder that we have the power to shape our future and create a more compassionate society. By actively working to uplift and support those in need, we can ensure that the events portrayed in "Past Tense" remain confined to the realm of fiction. Let us learn from the lessons of Star Trek and strive to build a future where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. Together, we can make a difference and forge a path towards a brighter tomorrow

While "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" is a work of science fiction, it presents us with a possible glimpse at a dark future that awaits us if we are not cognizant of the world around us and if we are not ever vigilant of our rights being taken from us. While any direct correlation must be viewed with caution, exploring these possibilities allows us to reflect and defend against us a possible future.

Disclaimer: It is important to note that the comparison between the Deep Space Nine episode "Past Tense" and the current state of the world is purely subjective and the opinion of the authors.


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